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Cauliflower Power

Just before this huge spike in plant-based diets, chefs like Dan Barber of Blue Hill restaurant in upstate New York were beginning to turn their attention to vegetables. We have talked before about how the food world has begun giving vegetables the same attention to detail, provenance and variety, as they would their meat, but the humble cauliflower was already making waves well ahead of this current global trend.
We are currently in the throes of a plant-based food fetishism, and prior to this, one of the biggest food trends, and indeed markets to get into was fast casual ‘dirty food’ – all those gourmet burger joints, fancy hot dogs and fried chicken and an abundance of fries adorned with six different cheeses, four different chillies and a secret sauce (usually a blatant rip-off of McDonald’s BigMac sauce). But the cauliflower was beginning to get some love around this time too in a kind of ‘I’m with the band’ vibe. As fancy takes on macaroni cheese began being the new most blogged about, Instagrammable side dish, cauliflower was ready, took advantage of the moment and cauliflower cheese started getting some upgrades for the millennial crowd. Cauliflower cheese has always had that amazing power to leave kids thinking, I can’t believe this is a vegetable, and parents thinking ‘well at least they’re eating vegetables, even if it is buried beneath 500g of cheddar.
A certain nostalgia certainly played out with cauliflower cheese, but whether it was using a complex mix of cheeses, or lacing the sauce with spices and mustard, or treating it like a rarebit mix, the dish was getting some accurate chef treatment and was arguably elevated into a higher class than TV dinner.
In the changeover period between ‘dirty food’ and the wellness era, roasting whole heads of cauliflower became quite a popular centrepiece of a meal. One of the most interesting preparations was smothering in harissa, roasting, then carving into chunky finger-thick steaks, and serving up with tabouleh for a light summery dish, or other roasted veg and gravy for something heavier. All of a sudden, it seemed there was a meat alternative that was substantial, filling, and without a whiff of Quorn or dodgy Linda McCartney sausages. In fact, the cauliflower steak caused recent controversy when a supermarket started selling pre-cut, plastic packaged cauliflower steaks, which caused uproar with both consumer laziness, and more importantly, the excess plastic packaging, which has become public enemy number one. But like they say, no publicity is bad publicity, and cauliflower continues to be one of the most lauded ingredients for creating hearty veggie dishes in forward thinking restaurants.
Right now, there are some other great cauliflower dishes doing the rounds. A favourite is Buffalo cauliflower wings, large florets of the brassica are dredged, deep fried then tossed in the vinegar laced Buffalo wing hot sauce like Frank’s. Served with blue cheese dressing, this seems to cross back into a little of that aforementioned ‘dirty food’ while still exciting the vegetarians and the influx of 2018’s picky eaters.
Bang in season and one of the trendiest ingredients right now, cauliflower has put in the hard work over the years, and it’s about to pay big. The new avocado? I think so.